Monday, April 18, 2016

An Update to the Previous Post

Okay, so this is now the second major news story in one week-- actually, in three days -- about a politician and would-be world leader trying to use the law to crush an artistic work primarily because (among other things) it alleges he has a small penis. Of all the utterly damning things that could be and have been said of Erdogan and Trump, the penis thing, it turns out, is the one that does it. The systematic documentation of Erdogan's violations of civil liberties and human rights, the apt comparisons of Trump to various fascist dictators and Third World strong men -- these seem not to phase either men-- perhaps, indeed, in their impoverished imaginations, they see both as a sign of "strength." Yet to suggest that either one is a little short in the dingaling department is to bring down the full force of their wrath and that of the law on the accuser.

It must be said that the dictators of the past, who exiled or assassinated Pablo Neruda or Roque Dalton, displayed what might be called (to borrow a phrase from Richard Hofstadter) a "higher standard of hating."

On the other hand, we now have an answer to the age-old stumper: when could an accusation that someone had small genitalia possibly be elevated from the level of puerile and mean-spirited jibe (of the sort that begs the question: why would it matter if he did? Why should we care? What is self-evidently desirable about having more penis anyways?) to the status of high art? Now we know the answer: when it is the one thing that seems to truly rile the ascendent autocrats of the world and -- one hopes-- hasten their self-implosion.

Sure, it is a little galling that the rest of us can spend months typing out our long-form diatribes against Trump and Erdogan, comparing them to the worst human beings in history and employing every last spark of moral indignation and intellectual firepower at our disposal, and still get no notice nor response whatsoever for our efforts, and meanwhile a picture of the Republican front-runner with a junior-league dickens wins the compliment of a threatened Trump lawsuit (surely the highest literary or artistic honor that anyone could bestow). One is reminded of Bertolt Brecht perusing a list of "degenerate" literature slated to be consumed in the bonfire at a Nazi rally and being incensed to see that his own oeuvre has been omitted ("Haven't I always told the truth?/ And here you are, treating me like a liar! I demand of you: Burn me!")

But the other truth here is that puncturing the egos of the Trumps and Putins and Erdogans and Cruzes of the world, and putting one's self on the line in serious ways to do so, is an heroic act, regardless of the details of how one manages it; and perhaps some experiments in poor taste are worth it if they are done in the spirit of finding holes in such men's narcissistic armor. If this is the only level on which it is possible to make a criticism of his persona and policies that Trump will actually understand, then by all means, let us sink to it!

I offer you a parable by way of illustration, from the great Dutch writer Multatuli (Eduard Douwes Dekker), the author of Max Havelaar. Multatuli pauses at one point in his bitterly funny polemic against Dutch colonial policy in the East Indies to lament the fact that he seems to have become dependent upon jokes and caricatures to make his point. "A curse on it!" he writes, "That indignation and grief are so often clothed in the rags of satire!" Yet he concludes, in effect, so be it, if that's what it takes to get through to people. "Away with conscientious language, away with considerateness, straightforwardness, plainness, simplicity, feeling," he writes. His doomed protagonist Max Havelaar had all these qualities, and what good did they do him? "[M]ust I then write otherwise than he? But how, then? Do you see, reader! I look for an answer to this 'how,' and therefore, my book is such a medley: it is a pattern-card, make your choice; afterward, I will give you yellow or blue or red, as you please." (Nahuÿs trans.)

So must it be as well with those of us who are increasingly willing to try anything in our efforts to convince the world not to trust their fates to men with small minds and small hearts (and small... oh, I just can't). Hats off to any of our comrades in the struggle who have found a means; who have managed to dangle the red flag before the Trump (or Erdogan) beast and make them charge. I get the impression both the protagonists of these two recent stories are as surprised as we are, by the way, that they succeeded so well-- really? That penis thing worked? That poem about Erdogan fellating sheep worked? But they also seem to share with us the shrug that follows: Well, we'll take what we can get.

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